Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"I'm so happy to see you!"
"Isn't it the BEST THING that our dismal old school was eaten?!"
"Wait... where's your uniform?
"You didn't get accepted to Station School, Violet."
You have to admire Craig Thompson for, much like Bryan Talbot, he is a man who's not remotely afraid to tackle something completely different for each project rather than ploughing the same, albeit highly successful award-winning furrows. It's difficult to think of five more disparate works from the same creator than GOODBYE CHUNKY RICE, BLANKETS, CARNET DE VOYAGE, HABIBI and now SPACE DUMPLINS. One could easily imagine that if he told his agents his next work was going to be a gore-filled slasher horror they'd probably just say, "Okay Craig, sounds great, same terms, alright?"
This is a perfect example of how to do a gripping all-ages read. Whilst on one level, for the younger kids, it's the madcap adventures of plucky Violet Marlocke, searching the galaxy for her missing father who's been swallowed by a planet-eating whale, on other levels there is much social commentary and satire about the ills of modern society for adults to digest.
Particularly the snobbery of those, adults and kids alike, who think they are a cut above Violet and her hard-working parents, who despite their best efforts are constantly struggling financially and battling against a system that seems determined to keep them in their place. Which is on a battered old space ship moored up in the equivalent of a trailer park. Well away from the gleaming space stations with all the luxury mod cons which the hoi polloi can't even board without a work permit, and even then only allows them day visitor status. But also environmentally, as the colloidal collection of space stations and asteroids, inhabited by more kinds of aliens than you'd see in an entire series of Star Trek, are coming under attack from space-whale diarrhoea which has already flooded eighty percent of the asteroid belts, destroying the homes of many poor species and rendering the areas uninhabitable...
Happily for Violet, her dad is proving far less digestible to the blubbery behemoth in question so a happy ending is assured, but not before Violet and her collection of odd-ball cohorts, all social outcasts in their own ways, have several perilous escapades en route to rescuing him! It's not often you come across something, for kids, all ages or adults alone where the secondary and even tertiary characters and their machinations and motivations are so well fleshed out. I lauded THE UNSINKABLE WALKER BEAN for just such depth of characterisation and this is exactly the same. The rich, vibrant storytelling is a delight to immerse yourself in. And this is before we've even got onto the art!
For this to my mind is just as much of an artistic masterpiece as HABIBI. There is not a millimetre of space wasted. For example, the backgrounds on space station are filled with gantries, walkways, airlocks, random aliens of every shape and size! In terms of panel composition and some of the crazy tricks he pulls, it is just as sophisticated as HABIBI, but then why should we expect anything less just because it's a comedy / fantasy all-ages graphic novel? What comes across so strongly is just how much Craig must love drawing, because the sense of fun and glee apparent in practically every panel is, again, a pleasure to observe. You could not put as much effort into your illustrations as this if you weren't having a blast drawing them. If all kids' graphic novels were as brilliant as SPACE DUMPLINS, the term "reluctant reader" wouldn't even exist.